Category Archives: Articles

31 Days of Junk: Starbucks’ Witch’s Brew Frappucino (#25)

Last October (2017), I made it a goal to drink 31 different beers—a new one each day—by the end of the month. Incredibly, I was successful in my attempt, which I dubbed #31FallBeers (look it up on any form of social media!) This year, I wanted to try something similar, but there were two important changes I needed to make. Firstly, I wanted to be able to expound more, so I decided against social media blurbs in favor of long-form posts on my site. Second: it needed to be much, much cheaper than drinking 31 different beers. The result? #31DaysOfJunk. Strap in and hold on tight, and please enjoy this month-long odyssey into the sugary, fatty belly of the autumnal beast.

I’m not sure how many Pumpkin Spice Lattes I’ve had in my day, but I can say with certainty “not many”. I don’t frequent Starbucks enough to consider myself a regular drinker of their product, so when October rolls around, the PSL barely registers on my radar. Not to mention, the drink’s ubiquity in the last few years has turned the phrase “Pumpkin Spice Latte” into a sort of white noise for me. I hear it, sure, but the words no longer mean anything.

Thankfully, Starbucks has offered some fun replacements over the last few years for those of us who prefer something a little edgier. First, there was the bloody, vampire-inspired Frappula. Then came the brainy and green-toned Zombie Frappucino. And this year Starbucks delivered the truly gross-looking Witch’s Brew Frappucino. All of these like punk rock alternatives to PSL’s bland pop radio demographic.

The lavender-colored base and the green sugar spinkles on top are fine, but what makes this drink so disgusting is its chia seed swirl. With a dark green hue only the worst head cold could conjur up, and a slimy texture to match, each slurp of this thing is at once both delicious and gag-inducing. The purple stuff tastes like the milk after you finish a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. The chia seeds are flavorless and so they absorb most of that fruity flavor, too. But the texture is all snot, man.

Kudos to Starbucks for putting out a drink that is as repellant as it is delicious. Here’s hoping they up the grossness even more next year.

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The Urban Legends of Halloween

The piece originally appeared on iHorror.

John Carpenter’s Halloween is one of the most revered horror films of all time, and in its wake came a surfeit of masked slashers attempting to replicate its success – most of them failing, more often than not.

There are a lot of components to Halloween which makes it such an effective film, from Carpenter’s piercing score to Dean Cundey’s eerie night-time cinematography to the terrifying, emotionless white mask Michael Myers wears – and all of it plays a part in creating a winning final product.

But the thing that makes Halloween such an enduring film – something these lesser copycats failed to realize – was Carpenter’s simple approach to the story. At its core, Halloween is an urban legend – more specifically, several urban legends rolled into one. It’s made up of the same stuff you’d tell around the campfire to spook your friends – a practice I’m sure has been around since campfires existed. In essence, Halloween is composed of the immortal substance that has terrified generations for centuries. Deep-rooted, primal fears that are utterly ingrained in our being. You can’t get much scarier than that.

These are the urban legends that make up Halloween.

The Creepy Old House

“Lonnie Elam said never to go up there. Lonnie Elam said that’s a haunted house. He said real awful stuff happened there once.”

This is what little Tommy Doyle warns his babysitter Laurie Strode as they pass by the dilapidated Myers house, for Myers is The Boogeyman, a tale as old as time. This is also a prime example of the urban legend theme that runs through Halloween, showcasing exactly how such legends are spread: by word of mouth.

So and so told me.

I know someone whose sister knows someone who said…

I heard it from a friend.

Think back to when you were a kid, racing through the neighborhood on your Huffy. Was there a scary house you and your friends avoided? Or maybe you stopped there just long enough in hopes to catch a glimpse of the witch or creepy old man who lived there? Of course. Every subdivision has a spooky house at the end of the block, one that youngsters warn each other to avoid. And how do the other kids know to avoid it? Well, they heard it from a friend…

The Escaped Mental Patient

The Hook” is possibly one of the most famous urban legends and you’ve likely heard one of its many incarnations at some point: young lovers on a secluded road hear a report over their car radio that a madman with a hook for a hand has escaped from the local sanitarium. Soon after, they hear a scratching at the car door. The horny boyfriend, desperate to get some action, tells the girlfriend not to worry – but she insists they leave, and so they do. The rejected boyfriend alleviates his tantrum by putting the pedal to the metal. Later, they find a bloody hook dangling from the handle of the car door.

It’s clear how the escaped mental patient aspect of this legend applies to Halloween, including the unforeseen danger lurking outside the car: who can forget the chest-clenching scene where Michael first breaks out of Smith’s Grove sanitarium and monkeys his way on top of the parked station wagon that’s there to transport him to trial?

But let’s not overlook the sex = death aspect of the hook story. The whole reason the teens in the tale survive is that, ultimately, they didn’t have sex. Purity is a generally agreed upon theme in Halloween – the teens who have sex and do drugs die, the ones who don’t (Laurie) live. I tend to disagree; I believe the real cause of the murders is irresponsibility – but I digress. (Also, the radio announcer alerting of an escaped mental patient, followed immediately by the listener’s death, is a scene directly from 1981’s Halloween II.)

Cars continue to play a big role in both urban legends and Halloween, such as in the case of…

The Killer in the Backseat

As the legend goes, a person (usually a woman) is driving home when a car suddenly pulls up close behind her, flashing its lights and honking its horn. Terrified, the woman races home, all while the mysterious car follows. She gets home, jumps out of her car, and runs to her door. Later, she discovers the car that was tailing her was trying to warn her…about the man with a knife crouching in her backseat.

Halloween‘s poor Annie Brackett isn’t lucky enough to have someone warn her about the killer hiding in her backseat. Instead, she’s allowed only a moment of confusion sitting in the driver’s seat, perplexed by the condensation that has formed on the inside of the car windows…just before Michael Myers springs up behind her with a knife. (It should be noted that the murderous backseat character in these urban legends is almost always an escaped mental patient.)

Cars aren’t the only recurring theme in both Halloween and many urban legends – so are phones.

The Babysitter & the Man Upstairs

Now we get to the nucleus of Halloween‘s urban legend roots: the babysitter in peril. While creepy phone calls had popped up before – most notably in 1974’s Black Christmas – it was Halloween that established a babysitter as the innocent victim on the end of the receiver. It’s so entwined with this particular urban legend that John Carpenter originally titled the screenplay The Babysitter Murders. Alas, the producer didn’t like it, and wanted it changed – but the theme remained the same. (It’s worth noting that director Fred Walton shot a short film, The Sitter, in 1977, which is based directly on “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” urban legend – and after seeing the success of Carpenter’s Halloween – decided to turn it into a full length film: When a Stranger Calls.)

The legend here actually isn’t as much a legend as it is a true story with a few embellishments. But the dressed-up version of the story follows a young female babysitter who receives numerous creepy phone calls from a stranger who keeps warning her to “check on the children”. Eventually, she calls the cops and they trace the call, resulting in the memorable line: “Get out! The calls are coming from inside the house!”

Michael Myers doesn’t actually call and harass Laurie Strode about the kids she’s babysitting – in fact, the relation of this legend to the movie is restricted solely to the “maniac stalking the babysitter” element – but still, there is a lot of phone play in Halloween. At one point, Annie – chewing a mouthful of food – calls Laurie, who mistakes the muffled sounds for an obscene caller. This plays a pivotal part later in the movie, and results in our final urban legend, a crossover of sorts…

The Roommate’s Death

Lovable airhead, Lynda Van der Klok, has just finished making love with her boyfriend Bob, who has headed downstairs to grab some beer. He soon appears in the bedroom door frame again, this time fully decked out in a sheet with eye holes. Only, that isn’t Bob playing ghost – it’s Michael Myers. Lynda doesn’t realize this of course and sits down by the phone to call Laurie to see if she’s heard from Annie. By the time Laurie picks up on the other end, Michael has wrapped the phone cord around Lynda’s neck and is choking her to death. All Laurie hears on her is moaning and gurgling – which she mistakes for Annie pranking her, a callback to earlier in the film.

Laurie ignores the threat but later discovers Lynda dead. This is related to the urban legend “The Roommate’s Death“, which sees a pair of college roommates alone in their dorm for the holiday weekend. One roommate leaves to grab some snacks, the other stays behind. Soon, the roommate in bed hears scratching and gurgling at the door – a warning she ignores. In the morning, she discovers her friend on the other side of the door, dead – throat slashed by a madman.

Halloween is so successful in terrifying us because it consists of all those tales we’ve been scaring each other with since swapping stories on the schoolyard. Stalkers, haunted houses, and boogeyman in the closet.

You could argue that urban legends and horror films share a similar three-tiered structure: interdiction, violation, and consequences. That is to say, characters who ignore the warnings, then willfully violate the warnings, and ultimately pay the price. But one thing is certain: horror films share the same function as urban legend – they’re intended not only to scare but also to warn.

Just like little Tommy Doyle tried to warn Laurie that The Boogeyman really existed.

31 Days of Junk: Haribo Ghostly Gummies (#24)

Last October (2017), I made it a goal to drink 31 different beers—a new one each day—by the end of the month. Incredibly, I was successful in my attempt, which I dubbed #31FallBeers (look it up on any form of social media!) This year, I wanted to try something similar, but there were two important changes I needed to make. Firstly, I wanted to be able to expound more, so I decided against social media blurbs in favor of long-form posts on my site. Second: it needed to be much, much cheaper than drinking 31 different beers. The result? #31DaysOfJunk. Strap in and hold on tight, and please enjoy this month-long odyssey into the sugary, fatty belly of the autumnal beast.

I’m just gonna say it: I don’t like gummy bears.

It doesn’t matter the brand, I can’t get down with any of them. I’ve always found them to be oddly greasy, and there’s something about their lack of coating that makes me feel as if I’m just gnawing on blubber. *shudder*

Now, there are plenty of gummy candies and gummy-adjacent candies I can and do get down with.  Sour Patch Kids. Licorice. Those gummy coke bottles that are covered in granulated sugar (especially the cherry coke kind!) All of those pass the texture test for my mouth.

But not the plain ol’ goomy bears.

That being said, I can appreciate what Haribo did with their “Ghostly Gummies”. Four different designs—a bat, a skeleton, a pumpkin, and a skull—in colors like yellow, orange, and purple-black. For not doing anything new with the recipe, they did a good job of a switching up the presentation.

As I said, no new recipe—same old fruit gummy bear flavor. When I opened the bag and took a whiff, it was that distinctly recognizable scent that all original gummy bears have, that of orange tea. It’s such an appealing smell that I really wish I could get into gummy bears more, but I just can’t.

Strangely enough, I’ve almost finished off the entire bag since typing this, so maybe I’m a convert??

Photo: ObsessiveSweets.com

31 Days of Junk: Spooky Nerds Rope (#23)

Last October (2017), I made it a goal to drink 31 different beers—a new one each day—by the end of the month. Incredibly, I was successful in my attempt, which I dubbed #31FallBeers (look it up on any form of social media!) This year, I wanted to try something similar, but there were two important changes I needed to make. Firstly, I wanted to be able to expound more, so I decided against social media blurbs in favor of long-form posts on my site. Second: it needed to be much, much cheaper than drinking 31 different beers. The result? #31DaysOfJunk. Strap in and hold on tight, and please enjoy this month-long odyssey into the sugary, fatty belly of the autumnal beast.

Nerds are cool—especially the duplex flavor boxes (what a fun concept!)—but they’re sort of underwhelming as a candy, right? Neon-colored tangy grit. That’s about it, really. Aromatic and zippy oversized sugar granules, not much more. Edible gravel.

I’ve enjoyed the occasional box of Nerds, if for no other reason than to shake up my candy eating habits, but I didn’t really take notice and intentionally seek them out until they came in “rope” form.

Nerds Rope are just the aforementioned candy stuck to a foot-long gummy strand. The flavor of the gummy never really stood out to me; everything still tasted primarily of the recognizable tart Nerds flavor. But that didn’t matter. There was something novel and enjoyable about the combination of candies—crunchy and chewy. It just works.

While I’m a big fan and advocate of the Nerds Rope, I have absolutely no idea what makes this particular Nerds Rope “spooky”. It’s not spookily flavored, like pumpkin spice or anything. Hell, the packaging is barely spooky; sure, it’s orange, and the little Nerds mascot is wearing a witch’s hat. But that’s it. I guess that makes it Halloween-ified?

Look, there’s really not much I can say about the spooky Nerds Rope. It’s exactly like a regular Nerds Rope in every single way, except for a slight variation with the packaging. Couldn’t they have made the Nerds themselves (on the gummy rope) look like bats or skulls or something? Or couldn’t they have been black and orange Nerds? As is, the “spooky” Nerds are colored orange, white, and mauve. *shrugs*

Spooky, un-spooky. Whatever. I’m a fan!

 

31 Days of Junk: Wax Fangs (#22)

Last October (2017), I made it a goal to drink 31 different beers—a new one each day—by the end of the month. Incredibly, I was successful in my attempt, which I dubbed #31FallBeers (look it up on any form of social media!) This year, I wanted to try something similar, but there were two important changes I needed to make. Firstly, I wanted to be able to expound more, so I decided against social media blurbs in favor of long-form posts on my site. Second: it needed to be much, much cheaper than drinking 31 different beers. The result? #31DaysOfJunk. Strap in and hold on tight, and please enjoy this month-long odyssey into the sugary, fatty belly of the autumnal beast.

When it comes to old-timey candy, I’ll be the first one to jump to its defense, championing every Necco wafer and candy-dotted folio from here to the Veach Short Stop gas station in Bumfudge, Illinois. (To further validate my allegiance to those dusty treats of yore, I developed an affinity for horehound drops as a child and went as far as ordering packs of Black Jack and Clove chewing gum online as a teenager.)

Still, I cannot understand–and have never been able to–the relevance of wax lips/wax fangs.

Nik-L-Nips, sure, I get those. Those are a functional wax treat. Bite off the wax cap, slurp out the popsicle juice inside the bottle, and toss.

But wax fangs? I looked them up on Wikipedia for the heck of it and see that they were never really intended to be chewed on, but that’s not what the contrary information on the pack I have in front of me says. There is an ingredients list, which includes sugar and BHT (to maintain freshness), and even a section that states, “For nutrition info, call…” Heck, even the catchphrase on the back plainly says, “Play Now, Chew Later”. These are meant to be treated like a candy, even if it’s not one you can swallow and digest.

Upon opening the pack, I’m blasted with the most delicious smelling wax lips I’ve ever encountered. I’m talking, like, whoa. Intense Fruit Stripe Gum aromas. Suddenly, I want to eat the hell out of these fangs. Wasn’t expecting that!

I bite a hunk off the side. Semi-tough at first, but quickly devolves into a spot-on chewing gum texture. And tasty; Fruit Stripe gum all the way. What crazy magic is this?! When did wax fangs become so goddamn good? I’m chewing and chewing, and the wax never changes consistency–just the most perfectly rubbery piece of gum.

I’m…shocked. These are fun to chew on! Who’d have thunk? Wax fangs. Functional candy. I love playing with my food.

Stop what you’re doing and go out and buy some of these right now.

31 Days of Junk: Brach’s Smore’s Candy Corn (#21)

Last October (2017), I made it a goal to drink 31 different beers—a new one each day—by the end of the month. Incredibly, I was successful in my attempt, which I dubbed #31FallBeers (look it up on any form of social media!) This year, I wanted to try something similar, but there were two important changes I needed to make. Firstly, I wanted to be able to expound more, so I decided against social media blurbs in favor of long-form posts on my site. Second: it needed to be much, much cheaper than drinking 31 different beers. The result? #31DaysOfJunk. Strap in and hold on tight, and please enjoy this month-long odyssey into the sugary, fatty belly of the autumnal beast.

Another day, another candy corn type of goodie. Only this time, it’s not a random treat trying to imitate candy corn, it’s candy corn trying to imitate a random treat. To be specific: a s’more.

S’mores are American as apple pie, but they taste better and are way more fun to make. They’re truly one of the greatest junk foods ever to be assembled. Which is why whenever a company releases a s’more-inspired snack, I’m ever so eager to try them.

I’ve had s’more Oreos (why didn’t you call them S’mOreos, you idiots?) and enjoyed ’em. I’ve had Ben & Jerry’s s’more ice cream. I’ve had both name brand and generic versions of s’more cereal, both equally delicious. But each of these takes on the classic campfire treat had the vital components to make it work: namely, graham cracker crunch (in some form or another), actual marshmallow, and real chocolate. This is why these various iterations work so well.

But can a s’more-flavored candy corn pull it off? These ones from Brach’s do a pretty decent job of it.

Again, they lack the full-bodied, all-encompassing experience that goes along with eating an actual s’more (or any s’more adjacent treat involving the same ingredients), but what they lack in varied textures they make up for in size. These suckers are huge! Far bigger than your average candy corn. The picture doesn’t do them justice. They’re like arrowheads. Or teeth from a Sarcosuchus.

The main flavor here is marshmallow. A bit of cocoa, too. But I didn’t notice much graham cracker taste. If I closed my eyes and ate one of these and you told me it was a hot chocolate-flavored candy corn, I’d have believed you.

I tried biting them down the line, color by color, to see if the different colors, in fact, faithfully represented the flavor they were supposed to—but I didn’t notice any variation.

While these certainly won’t replace the s’more, they’re good in a pinch.